Monday, October 24, 2016

Levee bike path in Jefferson Parish (LA) reopens

        Sections of the paved path on top of the east bank Mississippi River levee in Jefferson Parish, closed for months to allow subsiding levees to be raised, have reopened.  The 30-mile long trail, from the Fly at Audubon Park in New Orleans, upriver to the lower guide levee of the Bonnet Carre Spillway at Norco in St. Charles Parish, is again complete, unfettered by construction fences and "Keep Out" signs.
        Beginning in 2014, about 8.5 miles of the path in Jefferson Parish and two miles in Orleans parish were closed to allow the US Army Corps of Engineers to raise those sections of the levee two to three feet to correct for levee subsidence. Not all of the sections were closed at once.
       The only detour around the closed sections is River Road, a narrow, two lane road with heavy traffic and no shoulders running most of the length of the levee at its base.  Most regular trail users just avoided the Jefferson Parish stretch altogether.
       The levee in St. Charles Parish did not need to be raised so its 12.5 mile stretch of the paved path never closed.
         A third short section was also closed for work on pipes and pumps in the "Pump to the River" drainage project, just upriver from the Earl K. Long bridge over the Mississippi River.  Recently a short asphalt bypass has been built around the pipes, eliminating the short detour down to the toe of the levee and back up. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

"Two Coots in a Canoe" about two sixty-something men on a sometime contentious month-long paddle the length of the Connecticut River

       In 2003 two sixty-year-old retirees, David Morine and Ramsey Peard leave their wives and families for a month to paddle a tandem canoe on the winding Connecticut River from the U.S./Canadian border 400 miles to Long Island Sound.  They had been best friends when students at the University of Virginia's graduate school of business administration but, while keeping in touch, had seen very little of each other since graduation in 1969.  The pair thought the canoe trip would be a great way to refresh their friendship.
       Not really, if you accept the perspective of Morine, bowman for the trip and author of "Two Coots in a Canoe." about the experience,  published by Globe Pequot Publishing (2009).  Morine's rather matter of fact account of the trip leaves the reader wondering how in the world the two very different men became friends in the first place.
       As we learn of the life stories of the two men as told by Morine and revealed by interactions with the people they meet along the way, the two men were different in nearly every way from how to steer a canoe through a bend to what to wear when you are the stranger in a small New England town.
        The trip serves as a handy literary device for Morine, a published writer, to include the stories of a diverse collection of people the pair meets during their month-long river adventure.    In addition to the life stories of the two central characters, Morine and Peard, a Princeton University blue-blood who proposed the trip and who serves as the politically conservative foil to Morine, a Boston-area native who headed land acquisition for The Nature Conservancy for 18 years, space is given to discussions of the demise of farming in New England, the boom in higher education, gay rights, the decay of small towns after their manufacturing base dies and, of course, the river and the conservation efforts to protect it.  The old coot persona the two men embrace is on full display when they come in contact with younger people along the way.
        Where did all these colorful, accomplished strangers come from?  Both Morine and Peard state early in the book they had no interest in camping, sleeping or eating on the river bank, even for just one night.  Instead they would get bed and board from "strangers" along the river who would invite them in, exchanging food and a dry bed for the experience of meeting them and hearing the story of the trip.
         Ripping a page from Tennessee William's "A Streetcar Named Desire," the well-heeled seniors considered this their version of "depending on the kindness of strangers" or just plain "mooching."
      Not wanting to leave this crucial detail to chance, well in advance of the trip, a press release about the trip was sent via email to 1,500 members of the Connecticut River Watershed Council.  Those who wanted to host the pair replied and arrangements were made.  A story about the trip published in a local paper a few days before the two men launched issued the same invitation to a larger audience. 
        As it turned out many of the hosts were known to Morine, who had spend 30 years working in conservation in the area.  However, a stupid decision not to bring a cell phone, maybe in a effort to preserve a shred of wilderness feeling for the trip, meant they would have to meet others as they searched for a pay phone each evening to contact their hosts for the night to come and pick them up from where they landed.
          Readers of the book who do not live in New England and who are not avid conservationists may find the copious space given to describing the many conservation groups that have formed to protect land along the river from development, their funding sources and the motives of the people who lead them, tedious, detailed and boring reading.
         Another criticism I have is that someone looking for detailed information about paddling the Connecticut River will not find it in "Two Coots in a Canoe."  While the pair must have known more about canoeing than they let on in the book to even consider such a trip avid paddlers will want to consult guide books on paddling the river for info on what they will find, where to put-in and take out etc., etc.
         Treat "Coots" as the color commentary to the game that is really being played in the guidebooks and maps of the river.
         More interesting are the pair's take on the lives of the people they so briefly interact with.
        Real insightful observations are rare from either gentleman but there was this after an afternoon at Dartmouth College: "Living in a college town gives old geezers like Ramsey and me a chance to interact with coeds, and that made us feel young again, like we were still in the game."
          The book's prose does not rise to the level of great non-fiction adventure travel writing as practiced by Paul Thoreau and Bill Bryson but is straight forward and readable.  (Morine had five books to his credit before "Coots" was published but gives credit to Paul Flint "for making everything I write readable.")
        Near the end of the book tensions between the two men which had been simmering since the launch from Cannan, VT. reached the boiling point. The book has a decidedly downbeat ending.
 "Two Coots in a Canoe" by David Morine is available from Amazon.  My copy came from a local thrift store.    

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Trail Guide to the Delta Country, bicycling, hiking and paddling trips in Southeast Louisiana, now on the internet.

        The southeastern Louisiana chapters of the Sierra Club have long been dedicated to spreading the news about the wonderful opportunities there are to bicycle, hike, backpack and paddle in the New Orleans area.
       Spreading the news about outdoor opportunities available to area self-propelled travelers began in the early 1970s with mimeographed single sheets, hand-drawn maps and typed directions to top attractions such as Clark Creek in Mississippi and the newly minted Tuxachanie Trail in the De Soto National Forest just north of Gulfport, MS. The effort climaxed with the "Trail Guide to the Delta Country" last updated in 1992 and including about 80 adventures for bikers, hikers and paddlers in Louisiana and Mississippi. most no more than one or two hours drive from New Orleans.  Many, such as Jean Lafitte National Park are within the metropolitan area
        Edited by John Seveniar and illustrated by the late Jeanne de la Houssaye,  the 150 page volume has been out of print for quite a while now. 
         Until an updated edition can be produced (don't hold your breath) the New Orleans Group of the Sierra Club has posted the 1992 edition at their website  At the site click on Publications then click on Trail Guide.  The entire volume is there, divided into two parts.  Part 1 contains maps and descriptions for canoeing the rivers, swamps and marshes and bicycling in the area.  Part 2 gives the same treatment to hiking and backpacking.
         It appears none of the entries have been up dated since that last major revision in 1992.  This is not a problem for every entry.  Many popular outings such as paddling the "whitewater" on the Okatoma Creek near Collins, MS or hiking the hills in Port Hudson, have not changed in the last nearly quarter century.
           But stuff happens and things do change.  The Pearl River Basin, almost ground zero for Hurricane Katrina in 2005, was hit hard by the storm's winds which knocked down trees, changing the course of many familiar passages in the featureless Honey Island Swamp.  The Tangipahoa River entry is an example of how out-of-date some of the entries have become.  A wonderful paddle when the Guide was last published the river is still a wonderful paddle but there is almost no public access  now to get on or off it and outfitters come and go.
         A short stretch of the Tammany Trace, a paved trail for walkers, runners roller skaters and, cyclists with a parallel equestrian trail had been completed and opened to the public when Trail Guide was last published.  But now, in 2016, about 28 miles has been finished with plans to finally complete it to Slidell (by a different route).  The Longleaf Trace, a similar idea running 40 miles northwest from Hattiesburg, MS, to Prentiss, MS, was not even thought of when the Trail Guide was last published.
          Do your homework before trying any of the trails detailed in Trail Guide.  Visit the internet and make phone calls to verify the details of the 26-year-old resource before launching yourself on any of the trips in the book.  Join activity clubs such as hiking and paddling clubs with active members who have first hand and up to date information about the condition of trails featured in Trail Guide.
        While the passage of time has eroded the accuracy of some of the entries, Trail Guides is a valuable first stop when checking out what the area has to offer the self-propelled adventurer in southeast Louisiana.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"Canoeing Wild Rivers; The 30th anniversary guide to expedition canoeing in North America," by Cliff Jacobson

       Ever wonder how paddlers who frequently venture into the really remote areas of North America deal with dangerous bears? (Don't hang food from a tree.)  Or how canoe tents or different?  Or where you should really be putting your ground cloth when pitching a tent?
        For expert answers to these pressing problems faced by the wilderness paddler, or even someone who just wants to get the most from a weekend of camping on a white Black Creek sandbar in Mississippi, get your hands on a copy of "Canoeing Wild Rivers," by Cliff Jacobson, (2015, FalconGuides), available at the Jefferson Parish Library.
          Many consider Jacobson to be the most expert of canoe/camping writers in the field of outdoor writing.  This is the fifth edition of Canoeing Wild Rivers, first published 30 years ago.
           The book can be enjoyed by paddlers from beginner to expert.  Jacobson peppers the book with incidents from a variety of experiences he has had making 42 trips on rivers in the Canadian wilderness.  He has also canoed many of the wilderness rivers in the US, often leading groups for weeks at a time miles and miles away from civilization.
            The book has long been considered the premier guide to canoeing and exploring North America's waterways.  But this should not be the only book in your library about canoeing.  To make room for the wealth of detailed information Jacobson includes on topics not often discussed in detail in other wilderness books, Jacobson omits descriptions of how to paddle and reading whitewater, essential skills for all paddlers.  These basics are commonly covered in "beginner canoeing" books.
            Instead Jacobson includes discussions on planning a wilderness canoe camping trip in Canada from who to pick as companions for the trip and which airplane to choose when flying to a remote put-in.  A wilderness guide, Jacobson includes detailed descriptions of how to rescue and repair a canoe damaged miles away from town and sound advice and fresh ideas for making camp more enjoyable and secure.
           Jacobson can get personal.  He writes openly about his love/hate for electronic devices such as GPS and satellite phones and how and why his opinions have changed regarding kayakers and rafters over the past 30 years.
            To help broaden the discussions and opinions, Jacobson includes advice from more than 25 of his fellow canoeing experts complete with their biographical info.  Of special interests to New Orleans area paddlers, Jacobson has included a new chapter devoted to paddling desert and swamp rivers.
          Canoeing Wild Rivers is definitely a book for the paddling enthusiast to have and to red and re-read often.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Cypress Creek Campground in De Soto Natl Forest is closed and how I know that

      Cypress Creek Landing Campground is open.   The campground reopened soon after the water from Black Creek flooded the remote campground as damage from the high water was not as extensive as first thought.

      The campground at Cypress Landing in the De Soto National Forest south of Hattiesburg, MS is closed.  The small, remote and scenic primitive campground was flooded this spring and facilities there damaged when heavy rains raised the water levels in Black Creek, flowing along the site, 10-15 feet above "normal" spring water levels.
         The concrete boat launch at Cypress Landing remains open.  Camping and overnight parking is permitted on land immediately adjacent to the ramp but entering the closed campground is strictly prohibited, said officials at De Soto National Forest headquarters in Wiggins, MS.
         The landing at Cypress Creek, in the 501,000 acre national forest, is a popular access point for paddlers seeking recreation on the gentle sweet tea colored waters of Black Creek.  When the weather is warm, many boaters visit the creek's many sandbars to swim, camp, picnic or just goof-off.  A 20-mile portion of Black Creek has been designated a National Wild and Scenic River, the only river or creek in Mississippi so designated.  The creek also bisects a 5,000 acre federally designated Wilderness Area. 
         Black Creek flows through a "wet" county but alcohol is strictly prohibited in the national forest campgrounds.  Fines are considerable and rangers visit the campgrounds looking for violators.
       Damage  to Cypress Landing appears to be extensive as no date has been set for it to reopen.
       Other boat ramps and their adjoining primitive campgrounds remain open.  They are Big Creek Landing, Moody's Landing, Janice Landing and Fairley Bridge Landing.  These sites are very primitive; only Moody's and Janice has drinking water  The boat ramps and campgrounds are free. Along the river only the campground at Cypress Landing had a camping fee.  (There is a warm water shower there.)
       An updated trails advisory (601) 528-6180, says Black Creek Trail, a 41-mile hiking trail running along Black Creek and the shorter Tuxachanie Trail north of Gulfport are open but bridges may be out and the ground soggy in places.
       For more information call De Soto National Forest headquarters in Wiggins, MS at (601) 528-6160 weekdays 7:30 am to 4:30 pm.  The forest service does not yet post updated trail condition information on social media; you must call.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Paddling Colyell Bay with the BHPC 02/28/2016

Members of the Bayou Haystackers Paddling Club (BHPC) pause for a moment while exploring Colyell Bay, a few miles to the east of Port Vincent, LA.  Under warm and partly cloudy skies the group paddled for a few miles upstream of Louisiana highway 42 before paddling back to a private boat launch (launch fee $7)   The trip leader was veteran BHPC member Martina Ellis.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A winter paddle on the Jourdan River (MS)

Members of the Bayou Haystackers Paddling Club and the Mississippi Kayak Meetup  group joined on Saturday February 13, 2016 to explore the Jourdan River near Kiln, MS.  They are from left; Marti Scheel of Greenbelt, MD; Evelyn Almquist, Metairie, LA, Paul Braud, Baton Rouge, LA; Jack Curry, Jr., New Orleans, LA; Darlene Powell of Slidell, LA;  K.T. Ashley of Laurel, MS; and David Murphey of Bay St. Louis, MS.  Also on the trip were Portia Evans of Diamondhead, MS and Michael Beck of Baton Rouge, LA.

          A chilly breezy day with clear skies and bright sun greeted nine paddlers in canoes and kayaks as they launched from McLeod Park into the Jourdan River, February 13, 2016.  The trip was an outing of the Bayou Haystackers Paddling Club (BHPC) that also attracted members of the Mississippi Kayak Meetup group.  The group planned to paddle upstream to the beginning of the river: the confluence of Catahoula Creek and Bayou Bacon, turn around and paddle back to the park.
          Given the name Jourdan River Blueway Trail, the five and a half mile stretch passes through the eastern portion of a 125,000 acre acoustical buffer surrounding the NASA rocket engine testing site at the Stennis Space Center.  The land flanking the stream is undeveloped, the result of an agreement between landowners and NASA in the 1960s when the space center was established.  Those with land within the buffer zone were allowed to retain ownership of the land with with the promise no permanent structures would be built and no camping would be allowed in it.
          For the first several miles upriver of the park the Jourdan R. is a estuary of Mississippi Sound.  It is broad and there is no current.  Several oxbow lakes connect to the river affording paddlers a chance to just drift in this haven for birds and wildlife.
          There are small signs, in half-mile increments, marking the mileage along the stream.  Mile 0 is at the confluence of Bayou Bacon and the slightly larger Catahoula Creek.  McLeod Park is about mile 5.5.  The markings continue to Bayou Talla, about 2.5 miles downriver from the park.
         The Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain,, a private conservation group promoting the Jourdan River and several other coastal streams as "blueways" warns in their brochure and map of the Jourdan that the "Jourdan River below McLeod Park is a popular area for high-speed water sports, so remain aware!"
        Paddlers on this winter trip saw only one boat.  The trip ended up a round trip of about 6.5 miles, the group turning around about where the stream narrows and the slight current begins.  From where the group made their turn around the river becomes creek-like and the current increases.  It is not strong but it will require about 30-45 minutes of steady paddling by a paddler using a double bladed paddle to make it to the confluence. 
       Saturday's trip took a little less than four hours and that included a break to snack and recover after one SOT kayak capsized in water waist deep.  The unintended dunking was quickly taken care of.   After the paddler changed into the dry clothes he had in a dry bag the group continued upstream.  There were no other incidents after that.
          This was the first-time many of the paddlers on the trip had visited the Jourdan River despite the river being almost in their backyard.  (Two paddlers drove from Baton Rouge for the trip.)  Paddling the Jourdan River is one of the best kept paddling secrets in the area but if the praise this group had for the trip goes into wide circulation the river won't be a secret much longer.
           After the trip members of the group recharged with a delicious meal at the Dockside, 6061 Texas Flat Rd.,(228-344-3247) just off MS 43 and on the way to and from the McLeod Park.  Famous for dozens and dozens of snowball flavors the eatery also serves hotdogs, burgers fried seafood sandwiches, poboys and plate lunches in a small dining room or to be enjoyed on tables outside, all at very reasonable prices.  Beginning March the restaurant which serves lunch and dinner, will be open seven days a week.
          McLeod Park is a large park with both developed and primitive camping.  There are ball fields and pavilions too.  There is a $2 charge per vehicle to enter the park and no alcohol is permitted.  The park can become quite busy when the weather is warm enough for swimming.  Contact the park at (228) 467-1894.